Friday, August 31, 2007

We don't understand democracy because we never had to fight for it

On the face of it this sounds like the complete opposite of everything that we're told. In fact, the notion that Freedom, as distinct from democracy, can't be understood by people who haven't fought for it....in Vietnam.....is a regular slogan of the right, something that appears on car bumper stickers. But if you look at what other peoples have been up against in their fight to establish democracy in their countries you see that the United States got off pretty easily.

The United States had no established feudal system of ranks, although there was the odd lord in pre-Revolutionary times, and the King was a thousand miles away in England. What about France, that had been directly governed by one of the most autocratic dictatorships, in the form of Louis XIV, for decades and decades and only gradually thawed in the almost century between his demise and the rise of the French Revolution? They had lords, ladies, princes, dukes, marquises, royal families vying for dominance, Absolutism, you name it, and these things weren't idle curiosities. The nobility in France had direct power over the peasant farmers who lived on and farmed their possessions.

When the French Revolution came it wasn't about educated lawyers wanting independence and democracy for the pure theory of it, and neither was it about grievances like the mother country taxing tea. It was about the direct oppression of the people of France by the feudal system. And the feudal system put up a fight, not only during the Revolution itself but through a royalist restoration after Napoleon that was in turn overthrown.

The people of Continental Europe have fought harder for their democracy than the United States ever has. The United States was founded on idealism, but the democracies of Europe were founded on hard reality. Which might be one reason why socialism doesn't bother them. I don't know, I could be wrong on this one.

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